Rockefeller Calls for Next Generation E-rate to Meet 21st Century Education Needs

March 12, 2013

JDR waving reportWASHINGTON, D.C.--Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV today gave the followingprepared remarks at the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation titled "Oversight of the Federal Communications Commission."

Long ago we made the decision that in this country, private companies would build and own our key transportation, communications, and energy networks.  That was and still is a good decision.  Communications technology is reshaping every aspect of our society.  

I believe that this change is overwhelmingly positive, but as last week’s hearing on cybersecurity reinforced, this change is not without substantial risk to our national and economic security.  Just as harnessing technological innovation is crucial to our economic future, addressing the dangers of a completely interconnected world is just as critical.  Cybersecurity is one of the great national security challenges we face – it is a challenge that the government and the private sector must work collaboratively to solve.  I am confident we will. 

I believe that two other areas are absolutely critical for government and industry to come together to address pressing needs –

  • First, the construction of a nationwide interoperable public safety network that our first responders are owed. 
  • Second, we must make sure every child in this country is prepared to compete in the global economy and that means having access to the Internet and all innovation that derives from it. 

As most of you have heard me say, the job of being an FCC Commissioner is one of the hardest, but most important jobs in Washington.  Your actions affect how we communicate, what we see on television, and the deployment of new technologies and innovative services. 

Making sure that our first responders have the spectrum and communications network they need to keep us safe is one of my proudest achievements.  It is one of this Committee’s defining pieces of legislation.  Congress allocated $7 billion for the construction of this network, which will come from the auction proceeds of spectrum voluntarily offered up by broadcasters.  

The agency’s incentive auction proceeding is one of the agency’s most important undertakings in its history.  I know that this is a complicated proceeding that affects whole industries, but I believe that the auction must be driven by one simple principle -- it must maximize the resources available for the construction of a nationwide, interoperable broadband network for first responders. 

I urge the Commission to move forward on an aggressive timetable to get this proceeding done.  I have no doubt that when completed, the public safety network will save lives.  This is an area where the government and the private sector must continue to work collaboratively to solve the most important public safety issue we face. 

Just as we are future proofing our public safety communications network, we must future proof our efforts to make sure every child in America has access to cutting edge technology. 

As part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Olympia Snowe and I created a little program called the E-Rate.  I believe that this program is the crowning achievement of the Act.  Our little provision helped drive the broadband revolution in this country by exposing a generation of kids to the power of the Internet. 

The E-Rate program has fundamentally transformed education in this country – we have connected our most remote schools and libraries to the world.  The E-Rate has enabled schoolchildren across this country to participate in the information society.  I have seen firsthand the benefits of the E-Rate in my state. 

The impact of the E-Rate on our schools has been impressive.  More than 92 percent of classrooms have Internet access.  But, as impressive and important as this statistic is, basic internet connectivity is not sufficient to meet our 21st Century educational needs.  

As every educator knows, digital information and technology will continue to play an increasing role in education, so we need to think about how we are going to meet the broadband infrastructure needs of our schools and libraries.  We need to think big about the future of E-Rate. 

Simply put, we need to create E-Rate 2.0.  We need to fund and adapt E-Rate to meet the needs of a data-driven society. 

By the end of this decade, I believe that every school in America should have 1 Gigabit of connectivity.  And, if every coffee shop in America can offer wireless connectivity, then surely every school in America should be able to offer it as well.  We owe our children this. 

And, I know E-Rate can be the driver to achieve this goal.  In 1996, everyone dismissed the need for the E-Rate.  Telecommunications companies took the FCC to court over the program.  We won. 

We have almost two decades of proof that the E-Rate worked.  It enabled an education revolution, it exposed a generation to the power of information and learning, it literally connected the least among us to the world in a way never before possible.  

Today, I urge the FCC and industry to join me in an effort to make sure that every child in America has a bright future.  That every child has access to the transformative power of technology.